Saturday 2 April 2022

DEMO: Tears For Fears - "No Small Thing" - Low-DR CD vs. Higher-DR Steven Wilson 5.1 Downmix to 2.0 (and the obvious importance of audio production quality)

Despite all the examinations of what often amounts to subtle differences in sound when we compare different hardware devices, I think as audiophiles we too often neglect the very significant differences that mixing and mastering makes.

Recently, I received my copy of Tears for Fears' The Tipping Point, the Blu-Ray only available for order online here. As you can see in the image above (screenshot of the menu), the disc includes both lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD-Atmos mixes done by Steve Wilson.

I believe you can already stream the Atmos mix over Apple Music "Spatial Audio" but that would be in lossy Dolby EAC3+Atmos. As you can imagine, the multichannel mix sounds quite different from the 2-channel CD/lossless stream!

To appreciate the differences, I ripped the DTS-HD MA version (no access to an Atmos digital decoder) to my computer and converted it down to 2-channels with dBPowerAmp. You can see a comparison of the overall waveform below in Adobe Audition:

Compared to the Steven Wilson multichannel mixdown, clearly we can see the CD version is highly dynamically compressed! Notice that on the DTS-HD MA version, the track gets louder near the end of the song, notice that much of this dynamic potential has been completely squandered in the CD version.

For comparison, here's a look at the track DR values side-by-side (measured with foobar2000 and Dynamic Range Meter plugin) - CD versus Wilson downmix dithered down to 16-bits:

As you can see, the DR value from the CD is dramatically reduced (halved!) compared to the Wilson 5.1 downmix. If you've ever done your own listening with highly compressed audio vs. a less compressed version, no doubt you'll have an idea of what low-dynamic range music sounds like. Noise level tends to be accentuated and at times some recordings are not just peak-limited, but also grossly clipped resulting in harsh noise. When zoomed in, I'm seeing some "soft clipping" from the use of a peak limiter rather than "hard clipping" at 0dBFS thankfully.

For my own music server library, I have a copy of the downmixed 5.1 version which IMO sounds better than the CD mix.

For a demo of how the more dynamic version sounds compared to the CD, what I did was selected a 1-minute clip from 1:45 to 2:45 from "No Small Thing" for you to listen to. The 48kHz Blu-Ray rip was downsampled to 44.1kHz to be consistent with the CD. I normalized the Blu-Ray rip to 100% peaks, and decreased the average volume of the loud CD version to match the Blu-Ray Wilson Downmix using Adobe Audition 2021.

Here's the result:

As you can see, for this specific 1-minute segment, the Wilson 5.1 mixdown has a DR value of 10 compared to the DR5 from the CD. Waveform differences are obvious:

Average RMS amplitude as calculated in Adobe Audition equalized for both tracks. These days we can also use other algorithms to measure loudness like ITU-R BS.1770-3, resulting in -13.80 LUFS CD, -13.53 LUFS for the 5.1 mixdown. Regardless, we're looking at <0.5dB average amplitude difference. (See this article/video for more info about various music level measurements.) 

A demo is only as good as making sure you have a chance to listen... Here are the files:

As with my other demos, this is released based on the principle of "fair use" - a portion of music shared for the purpose education and testing. Please delete the samples when you're done and purchase the music if you like it.

What do you hear?

There are obviously differences. For example, the CD version sounds like it has a bit more reverb compared to the "dryer" sound of the 5.1 mixdown to me. I wonder if that impression of more reverb in the CD version might not just be the high compression pushing up what should be subtle reverb trails, making them overly significant. The 5.1 mixdown as a result sounds more focused with vocal and instrumental parts better separated. The voice and acoustic guitar are better situated in the center of the soundstage (the multichannel mix makes good use of the center channel). Later on around 30 seconds, the 5.1 downmix has the electric guitar situated clearly to the right, easily isolated with good contrast from the other instrumental layers while with the CD version, the guitar appears more embedded within the sound of everything else.

Given the description above, ABX listening should be easy:

Beyond these remix characteristics, you can also appreciate that the overall quality of the sound is better with the less dynamically compressed 5.1 mixdown. Nuances are better appreciated such as the acoustic guitar strums, the voice is more tonally natural to me, the percussion more impactful. With more "room to breathe" in the upper amplitude levels, there's less harsh, "crunchy" distortions throughout and I can push up the playback level on my sound system without as much listening fatigue.

As has been expressed by Mitch Barnett in his article "Dynamic Range: No Quiet = No Loud" (2017), the decades of dynamically compressed sound like on the CD version has resulted in "wimpy loud sound" across all popular genres. Given the prevalence of strong compression, this is sadly an overarching legacy of 21th Century popular music sound quality (thus far).

I think as audiophiles, while we may obsess and claim that "everything is important", it's wiser to focus on the things that make the most difference. For most of us, I think the Big Three are: Room, Speakers, and Recording Quality.

As I had expressed previously in the "Good Enough" article a few years back, if we are to spend money proportionate to what contributes most to high-fidelity sound, we should clearly be devoting resources to improving the room acoustics (could be very expensive - like buying a house with an adequate sound room!), and excellent speakers instead of focusing too much on the little hardware things like cables, power conditioners, or related tweaks.

Of the Big Three, "Recording Quality" is the one we have least control over, which is why when it comes to building a music library, it's good to keep an eye out for the best sounding version of favourite albums. Sometimes we might need to seek out "first press" releases with better dynamic range, perhaps look for audiophile editions from MoFi or Audio Fidelity (sadly now defunct), instead of the latest mainstream remaster. We might even need to seek out vinyl versions that have been mastered without as much compression. And yes, even though the Steve Wilson 5.1 Mixdown isn't the "official" 2-channel version, this is clearly my preferred way of listening to The Tipping Point when not played back in actual 5.1 multichannel. (The multichannel mix would be my "definitive" version of this album.)

IMO, the absolute connoisseur of audiophile reproduction is not just the guy who picks out the "best", often very expensive, DAC, amplifier, speakers, audiophile cables, and all the right tweaks; but the one who also knows which is the best release of their favourite music!

By the way, while I used the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio version of The Tipping Point in this demo, the lossless TrueHD-Atmos version sounds great on my system. Tracks like "The Tipping Point", "My Demons" and "End of Night" incorporate some really nice surround with height channel content. At times, I'm tempted to look over my shoulders just to double check if there is somebody making sounds back there! The last track "Stay" is a slower tune which makes good use of the height channels and creates a feeling like I'm floating amidst the vocals not just with perception of width and depth, but also the vertical dimension.

As a synthpop/rock album, the sound is obviously not "natural" so Wilson has leeway to construct the mix creatively (as opposed to trying to re-create some kind of surround "live" sound). As such, it's absolutely appropriate that the surround channels be used for all kinds of esthetic effect so long as not overly aggressive for most listeners (I don't like when some mixes are too "rear heavy" for example), or sounding gimmicky (eg. excess "ping-pong" effects isolated to single speakers). Steven Wilson has done a great job with his mixes over the years and this one is no exception! Here's hoping that many more albums can be given this kind of treatment as streaming services like Apple Music continue to host "Spatial Audio" content.


A look at the complex 5.1 multichannel original Steven Wilson mix from which the 2.0 fold-down was derived.

I want to continue to encourage audiophiles to expand their listening experience into multichannel audio. There are a lot of nuances in those 5.1 channels shown in the image above that gets lost when folded down to 2.0. Yes, there are costs and sacrifices to having even more speakers in the room; obviously the need for extra real estate. Yes, it costs money for those speakers, amps, processors/receivers. However, just like 2-channel audio, there's no need to be extreme in order to achieve fantastic quality; a few good speakers and a nice receiver should not need to be too expensive. Yes, one might obsess and spend even more time with speaker placements and tweaks. I guess that's what audiophiles do. ;-)

A few weeks back, I integrated 2-channel and multichannel content (typically 5.1 FLAC rips) into my Roon library. This is already very nice although unfortunately Atmos content is not supported through Roon. A "bitstream-to-HDMI" feature would be fantastic and I suspect RAAT is advanced enough to handle this. Ideally, the ability to decode Atmos, apply volume leveling and DSP would be "the promised land"! One method to decode Atmos appears to be using the Dolby Media Encoder which costs US$400/yr as discussed here. I don't think that's a reasonable cost just for playback especially given the paucity of lossless Atmos music content currently. Give the proprietary nature of Atmos (and dts:X), it's unlikely that there will be a free/open-source reverse engineered object-based decoder any time soon (for example, incorporated into software like FFmpeg). Considering the tenacity of coders out there, you never know...

Multichannel has the potential to create a more realistic sound field compared to 2-channel playback (see research like this in the literature). While wide soundstage and good depth can be achieved with 2-channel stereo sitting in the "sweet spot" facing forward with well-placed speakers, it's hard to render detailed, stable sounds far in the corners or behind the listener across wide audible frequencies if one were trying to reproduce a real acoustic space. Obviously the imaging also fails if we're off the sweet spot or have the head turned too much.

[BTW: A review here with some history on "immersive audio" from before Y2K; much of the computing limits from back in those days have been overcome. And here's one from 2021 for comparison demonstrating progress over the last 2 decades.]

While we can trick the mind into hearing the impression of a voice over the shoulder or incidental dog barking behind us (as in QSound-processed Amused To Death) with 2 channels, it's hard if that "spatialized" sound is complex like say a choir with multiple voices we might want to pick out from behind us, or the sound of an audience with multiple individuals in specific locations clapping or cheering. Technologies like QSound (developed back in the 1980s) can be impressive although the effect doesn't completely sound natural to me. This is not to say we absolutely need accurate surround reproduction in order to enjoy music! For some music lovers, mono is good enough. Rather, technology and art have gone hand-in-hand over the millennia to allow for expression of human creativity. It's good to have the surround technology available so that artists, audio engineers, and producers can utilize a wider spatial palette with which to expand the auditory canvas, and potentially further enhancing the listener's emotional response.

Over the last while I've been listening to some live concerts in multichannel (without the video). On the Eagles' Farewell I Tour: Live in Melbourne (2005, DR14), if you have a multichannel system, among others, make sure to listen to the last track "Desperado". The 2.0 version gives a valiant effort but simply cannot reproduce the same enveloping soundstage, stability of vocals, instruments (simple solo piano to start, building with synth, percussion, guitar) and detailed audience sounds recorded in the Rod Laver Arena that night. Also, Phil Collins' Live at Montreux 2004 (DR11) brings up good memories of some music I grew up with.

With the death of Glenn Frey in 2016 (it was good to have attended the Long Road Out of Eden stop here in Vancouver in 2010) and Collins recently saying goodbye to live performances, it is great that we will always have these multichannel recordings to simulate artists entertaining the crowds. (Oh yes, don't forget Leonard Cohen or George Michael...)

Hope you're also able to enjoy the results of artists releasing multichannel content thus far!


  1. Great post Arch,
    The resurgence of multich in the last few years has been very exciting. With the addition of Atmos to most of the streamer media along with BluRay releases, the market is expanding at break neck speed.
    I do wonder how we can best address the labels over the issue of excessive compression and try to put an end to this practice. We don't all listen with earbuds and ipods, and even some that do care about quality.
    I'd appreciate any ideas you have for towards this goal.
    TIA, Sal1950

    1. Thanks for the note Sal,
      Yeah, it is exciting seeing the progress in multichannel!

      A shame I think that "traditional" audiophiles and the audiophile press have not been more consistently ahead of the game. There have been times over the years of course like back in the early 2000's with the release of SACD and DVD-A multichannel when there was a spurt of activity. ;-)

      Seriously, over the last few years, for every time the audiophile press mentioned "MQA", if this was instead a mention for multichannel audio, maybe we would be heading somewhere beneficial!

      For all the posturing about "high fidelity" or reproducing "the absolute sound", the audiophile press is generally behind the curve of technology when they so often seem to be headlining only yet another turntable, tube amp, or 2-channel system...

      As for dynamic range compression, I'm not sure what more to be done other than better education of the music-listening public. These days, there's no benefit to those kinds of "DR5" masterings like this Tears For Fears CD. When streamed with volume normalization turned on, they're no louder, have been stripped of potential emotional engagement, and sound more distorted as per the demo above.

      Audio engineers have known about this for ages. Don't know if artists themselves or the music labels still somehow think that "louder signal is better!".

      As audiophiles, writers, reviewers, and magazine writers, I think we must shout from the rooftops as much as possible to remind readers of the one BIG thing that can be changed Industry-Wide to make music sound better. Let your favourite artists know when they release a crappy compressed recording. Leave a comment on social media when you're dissatisfied for example with a CD purchase. Leave a review on Amazon to warn others of bad sound, etc... Eventually money talks if sound quality impacts the bottom line.

      I've been suggesting for years that audiophile magazines do their part. Here's a response to Steve Guttenberg from 2014 for example:

      IMO, some of these old guys have been a detriment for audiophiles who seriously desire good sound and high fidelity... Not just in the inability to objectively review products and speak against snake oil, but also in thinking about something as straight forward as recognizing distorted sound and trying at least to encourage a change.

  2. The hit or miss production quality has been a big influence on my music purchasing for many years and on my listening habits. I very rarely listen to rock and contemporary pop at home with my hifi systems. As I look through the recordings I listen to most, they are mostly good productions with high DR measures. Production on contemporary pop is so often done poorly that I don't bother anymore. Maybe I'll stream a song or too but rarely do I add those recordings to my library. Wondering what else I can do to push the topic.

    1. Good point Doug,
      I've often wondered for myself "why is it that I find so little new music worth buying"?

      - Is it that I'm getting old and new acts don't speak to me as a "Gen X" guy with family and mortgage anymore? I'm sure there's some truth to this...

      - Is it that my tastes have changed in some ways so that when it comes to new music to explore, I might be veering more into jazz and classical? Probably this too although pop and rock still remain my favoured genres.

      - Is it that there are many other avenues of entertainment these days to engage in and life is busy? I think for sure the quality of home theater playback of movies, web surfing, games... will play a role in diluting the amount of time I have for just music listening.

      - Is it that much of the albums these days just don't sound good, not because of content necessarily, but that beyond whatever earworm "hooks" they provide with first listen, over time they're fatiguing and drive me away? I think there's something to be said about this latter reason. As a generalization, I get weary by around DR7, and definitely by DR5, I notice that I tend not to revisit these albums... Or at least yearn that it actually was more pleasant listening. I refuse to buy anything "hi-res" if it isn't at least close to DR12.

      I suspect that as with everything, there is a "normal curve" around how music lovers can tolerate unnatural sound quality whether due to dynamics or artificial processing. I just hope this idea that sound quality does matter to longer term enjoyment gets wider recognition. And that it does substantially impact the longevity of an album and by extension the artist themselves (and how much $$$ they can make).

      If artists, record producers, audio engineers can embrace this idea, then maybe we can "push the topic" into those influential enough to do something about it!

  3. Hi Arch,

    Thanks for the interesting review articles on the complexities of multi-channel processing, especially the more up to date and in depth Xuejing Sun overview. Funny that the term Spatial Audio already appears in the 1998 article… ;-)

    I guess you have been following Computer Audiophile’s quest for bit-perfect multi-channel of the highest quality and are looking forward to applying his results to your own Windows-based multi-channel system.

    In my case, being an Apple Music subscriber I have been looking for a way to play Spatial Audio through Airplay to avoid adding more wiring to my SACD based 4.1 system. Since I started using Apple’s streaming service, I have been listening mostly to stereo output; I get immersive sound on the small speakers of my MacBook Air but not on the headphone output and my main system is stereo through Chromecast, or double stereo through Airplay. The article clarifies things because I suppose what I get on the laptop is virtualized multi-channel through stereo speakers, with the math implemented inside a custom chip from Apple, the same I guess that is included in their earpods except that version must implement binaural rendering of the Atmos source.

    Spatial audio is most effective for pop or jazz, not so much for classical that is my main diet so I could manage, but recent soundbar offerings that can work with Airplay revived my interest in getting some Atmos content easily without going through a full-size AV decoder. So I bought a Sonos Beam Gen 2 in the hope of getting the immersion I hear on the laptop but with good (enough) sound. I have better sound (no match for my B&W/Velodyne/Bryston main system of course) but no immersive effect!!!

    The problem is the bar relies on side walls to project the ambiance at the back or side and my listening room is a large open space with the walls very far away. I get a wide image but no side or back channel effect, unless I bring it close to one wall where I get half of the projection. Not good!

    So I am stuck with either doubling my investment by buying two Sonos One back/side speakers to add to the Sonos wifi network and hoping they will add the proper immersion, or going with Apple’s specialized headphones. Just bought myself a glorified TV speaker…

    By the way, if you haven’t tried yet, I suggest you play through your wife’s MacBook the Apple Music version of the Tears for Fear recording you mentionned. With the laptop positionned on your lap, the sound bubble created by the two fixed up-firing speakers is quite impressive in my opinion, if you can disregard the tinny sound of course…

    One annoying problem I have with the Sonos app that controls the Airplay output is that the volume slider is logarithmic in scale, while the built-in MacBook volume slider that does the same thing is linear, so switching directly from the built-in to the Sonos can create very loud sound bursts since what is halfway on the not very loud MacBook is almost full volume on the Sonos… Need to take care when switching.

    1. Just to complete, after some searching I finally found out that Airplay does NOT send Spatial Audio or Atmos, only stereo (like my headphone output on the MacBook)... That explains the lack of immersion! Bummer.

      Very confusing situation. The only way out is through an Apple TV 4K connected to a TV that supports ARC/eARC to which the Sonos is connected. I have an older model with only optical out so does not work for me.

    2. Hi Gilles! Great, long time no chat, hope you're well!

      Nice to hear the update on your Apple Music "Spatial Audio" explorations. Yeah, it looks like the term "spatial audio" is not a new description (as in the whole section on "Spatial Audio Rendering" - "reproduction of 3-D sound fields that preserve the desired spatial location, frequency response, and dynamic range").

      Thanks for the tip - I'll have a listen to the Tears For Fears album on the MacBook!

      As you've described, there is certainly still much to be done when it comes to multichannel streaming and decoding to get it to work as seamlessly as possible. To get ubiquitous decoding / playback of Dolby Atmos that can target the output to the channel count and positioning would be nice to see (whether it's 2-channel headphones, soundbars, TVs, or true multichannel setups). As such, I would certainly love to see free/open decoding on computers like Windows!

      Yeah, I've been following along with Chris' explorations into Atmos on AudiophileStyle. Will be interesting to see what he eventually comes up with. When it comes to audio these days, I try to be pragmatic about these things especially multichannel where there are all kinds of room variables.

      Personally, I would not obsess too much and would advocate a "don't sweat the small stuff" approach especially when it comes to multichannel! Accuracy of decoding, lossless quality, "good enough" speakers and a room that sound good is already great!

    3. Just to add that the Sonos bar is quite immersive when playing a 5.1 Dolby track from an old DVD of Pink Floyd's Pulse concert through the optical out of my Toshiba TV. Since my MacBook receives the Spatial Audio through wifi, I wrongly thought it would also send it, but I guess HDMI copyright constraints still apply...

    4. Cool to hear Gilles about the soundbar and the Pulse album. Yeah like the MacBook, I've experienced some laptops to have quite good "spatiality" out of the speakers as well!

      BTW, I think Pulse is QSound processed also...

      Yeah, until there's more interoperability, probably reasonable to expect receiving and sending of Atmos-encoded stuff would have some constraints. ;-(

      Here's hoping that playback can be more open in the days ahead...

  4. Which is the equipment one needs for multichannel pls? As I suppose a common DAC is not enough? Is it always an HDMI output that I need to plug into ....where? Lost in space ..... Next Question: when purchasing and downloading multichannel recordings I get offered to download (at higher px) higher resolution than flac 44 there an added value in buying the hires?

    1. Hi there Read,
      Currently, multichannel DACs such as USB ones are uncommon. You could on the low end buy something like the MiniDSP UDAC8:

      Higher up you could get the Exasound E38 Mk II:

      But I think for most purposes these days, the convenience of a multichannel AV receiver with everything built in like bass correction, room EQ, and video input/switching is IMO unbeatable value using HDMI. I suggest looking at Audioholics for a selection of reviews over the years:

      Personally, I would not get too hung up on the "sound quality" side. If there's one thing I've learned over the last decade or so, it's that people exaggerate sound quality of DACs too much and even though HDMI has higher jitter, it's basically irrelevant. Focus on the "Big Three" of the media you play, room, and speakers.

      For me, I'm currently just using my Yamaha RX-V781:
      with the pre-out decoded main front channels sent to my better Hypex NC252MP amps:

      Even though not the best, I know from previous testing that the pre-out decoded resolution is not bad:

      Obviously I try to integrate the objective performance with my own subjective listening and consider value for the price of these things playing a big role in my decision-making as well.

      High-res download options are basically the same between multichannel and 2-channel as discussed and summarized here although I think since multichannel provides more audio content than 2-channel and even more nuances to listen for, I suspect the "need" for hi-res is even lower:

      I only buy hi-res when the DR is good and I can confirm that it's not just an upconverted 44/48 --> 96kHz for example. And of course if I know I like the music to spend more! For example with the Tears For Fears album, I'm a fan of the band, liked the 2-channel streamed "preview" of the songs and know of the reputation of Steven Wilson's mixing job, so I'm happy to purchase a copy.

      Over the years, I've certainly seen my share of "pseudo-hi-res" albums including things like SACD multichannel upsamples:

    2. Thanks. I was told in 2017 by them:

      they do nearly all recordings in native 192khz (by then in 5.1 MCh, no idea if they do now the 7.1 or 7.2) and downsample to minor resolutions. Rarely they did anything upsample and If they did they quoted so, they wrote me.

  5. I got caught in the Dr. Toole "circle of confusion" because of bad recordings when I was in the process of fine tuning my DIY speakers to my ear's taste. I was clearly unsatisfied of the result and was getting crazy in trying to find what was wrong until I played a superb recording: Dave Grusin Migration (great piece of music too !). I could finally conclude that I didn't messed up in my design, the "tuning" of my speakers was right, it is the source that was wrong! To that extent.. from "well, hum..." to "wow" !!

    And if like the DR problem was not enough, I get also furious when the recording engineers makes us feel like we're playing the piano or the drum ourselves by panning the low notes on the right and high notes on the left, or worse, the hi-hat full left and tom floor full right...what we call the '20 feet wide drum'... Hey, I want to be in the first row, not on the stage !

    Finally, an other growing problem is that many pop artists (especially here in Quebec) no longer have money to pay the high cost of a professional studio and rather do their own recording with a DAW home studio, with not that good microphones, with not that good monitors and worse, with no experience at all in recording techniques.

    So sad, now have a Ferrari, but have only a few adequate roads to fully enjoy it!

    1. Well said DColby,
      When it comes to acoustic, natural music like pianos and symphonies, it only makes sense for the recordings to achieve a "presentation" that conceptually follows. While I have no problem with "walls of sound" or massive soundstage with bombastic pop or rock, it's certainly pretentious to represent what should be intimate piano recordings this way for example ;-).

      Thanks for the suggestion on Grusin's Migration - will have a listen!

  6. Archimago, it's great to see that you are still working on the multichannel stuff! I haven't yet tried any music in Atmos, but hopefully I can do it sooner rather than later.

    I have tried Atmos occasionally with movies, with a simple addition of two pairs of speakers angled towards the ceiling. Maybe that wasn't good enough, or perhaps I did something wrong, but I thought the difference compared to my standard 7.1 setup was tiny, and not worth having all those extra speakers and cables.

    1. Hey Freddie,
      Yeah make sure to give Atmos music a try and "see" what you think.

      The Atmos effect is IMO meant to be subtle most of the time. Albums like The Beatles or even this Tears For Fears generally will not have Atmos content that makes the listener go "Wow, check out that height channel effect!" as if there's a helicopter hovering over our head like in movies. Rather, it's the impression that we're being enveloped by the sound with a dimensional presence over us as one might feel in a concert hall with real room acoustics... As such, I agree that the effect is subtle and the height channels do not make as much of a difference as the jump from 2.0 --> 7.1.

      An anecdote from this past week:
      This past Sunday, I went back to my first Vancouver Symphony concert at the Orpheum Theater after 2 years of COVID. Lovely performance of Beethoven's Symphony No.2 and Mischa Maisky soloist on Dvořák's Cello Concerto. I was seated almost ideally; left-front, 4th row straight in front of Maisky. During the performance I made sure to close my eyes for a bit to just take in the sound, analytically asking myself: "Does this sound like any 2-channel stereo I've ever heard?"

      The answer I think of course for those of us who regularly listen to live music is - "Of course not!"

      With a full orchestra of 100 musicians, each one producing their own sound source, distilling all that down to 2 channels, 2 speakers (likely frequencies split multiway) clearly leaves much to be desired! When I close my eyes and listen at that position, I can appreciate the soundstage width that's very difficult to represent with 2 speakers horizontally with that much illusion of spatial resolution. There are clear ambiance cues that come from behind me. There is an impression of height as the audio bounces off the ceiling to give me an impression of being in a large space vertically. Maisky's cello is anchored in space in front of me and the nuances of duet parts with the concertmaster achieves a level of spatial, tonal and dynamic nuance which I think is very hard to achieve (impossible IMO) regardless of how expensive one's front speakers are.

      Obviously multichannel isn't perfect, but it does achieve a sound quality which IMO is more "real" to live performances. So if we as audiophiles still adhere to the old definition of the absolute sound being along the lines of recreating, as faithfully as possible, the sound of the "live event", then I think as audiophiles we must embrace multichannel playback as having the potential for more than traditional 2-channels stereo.

  7. How do you find the best sounding version of an album?

    I've tried a few times in the past few months, but I always seem to end up on a thread of people either asking the same thing about a particular album or just plain arguing what the best version is or (mostly) just complaining that sound is crap unless you buy the first gen LP that is rare and costs $$$.

    1. Hey there _cl,

      Good question!

      First of all, it's almost never the LP that's rare and costs $$$. ;-) Folks like Mike Fremer like to hype LP and esoteric masters from decades-old mothers and stampers as if they are routinely the "Holy Grail". Maybe the best version could be on an LP somewhere that hasn't been digitally transferred from the source tapes already, but that's likely few and far between. Don't let the analogue enthusiasts scare or impress you with unobtanium that's more than likely exaggerated urban legends once you actually have a good listen to what they're talking about.

      Clearly there will be subjective opinions on "what's best". Personally, I like to do the following:

      1. Check out Dynamic Range Database and see if folks have uploaded data a masterings - often you'll also see LP rip data also:
      Often the older "first press" masters can be better. Not all high-DR masterings sound better but this can at least provide some guidance against grabbing a crappy remaster like say the 2020 Rolling Stones Some Girls or Goats Head Soup (both DR6, ghastly).

      Careful with some old releases that might have pre-emphasis:

      2. Ask the music lovers "in the know". I've typically found the guys and gals on Steve Hoffman Forum's "Music Corner" very helpful. Do a forum search to see if the title has been discussed over the years:

      3. Do a search for articles about "classic" albums. For example, once awhile you'll run into great articles like this (on AudiophileStyle):

      Good luck! And have fun!

    2. Thanks for the informative and thorough response!

      I had thought the loudness-war website was offline. Thanks for the link.

      I do look at the Music Corner forum and I haven't been successful there, at least for what I had been interested in. I'll redouble my efforts and give it another chance.

  8. Arch,
    Can't recommend Steven Wilson enough for anyone interested in multichannel or high DR. Whether under the name Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson or as a remaster tech (Jethro Tull, King Crimson, XTC, Yes, Tears For Fears), Wilson is the man!
    Best there ever was...
    p.s. the SW youtube studio presentations are top shelf as well

  9. This topic in general is the foundation of all questions around Hi-Fi and reproducing music. The question I ask is: Do you want to hear the music as they (the artists, sound engineers and producers) want it to be heard or as you want to hear it? I mean artists rarely have start-to-finish control over what ends up in the hands of listeners and someone down the line can decide a record needs more punch to grab ears during radio play. It really does matter how much a recording is cared about throughout its entire production.

  10. So my comment (which I have forgotten in the meantime) was never published but several spam comments were :-(

    1. When was the comment written Specialist?

      I didn't see any of the comments when scrolling through recent messages...

      Sadly, these days spam messages are commonplace and it's a real pain to filter them every few days...

    2. It was written in May. I tried sending it in again and after getting a notification of three new spam comments today, I see it has disappeared again! :/

    3. I see it Specialist,
      Strange, Google seems to automatically tag as spam for some reason!

  11. Here's my comment from May 3 (slightly expanded) that somehow didn't get through:

    Sadly, it seems that the band actually do see something in the DR5 mastering (their previous record, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, is what actually made me aware of the loudness wars). Curt said he still enjoys listening to the album, as opposed to previous albums. He specifically mentioned walking with his dogs / running, so we're talking about headphones or earphones in a noisy environment. From my own experiences, that's about the only situation where a compressed mastering actually works better than a dynamic one.

    Likewise, Roland said this: "But once it gets mastered, and then you hear it on another format or you put the video up on YouTube, all of a sudden, you can hear every little detail—and that is so satisfying!

    Sometimes, you can hear more of the detail on those devices, even on your phone. I remember when [the title track] "The Tipping Point" was released [in October 2021] and I was listening to it on my phone, I was thinking, "Oh my God, I can hear everything!" And that is just wonderful. It's wonderful."

    At this point my head is firmly planted in my hands. They really don't seem to get it - or why The Seeds of Love is considered one of the best sounding albums of all time.

    1. Well said Specialist,
      Wow. I wasn't aware the boys were so in love with hearing "everything" on phones and when out walking the dogs as the reference.

      We're doomed, audiophile boys and girls... ;-(

    2. Thanks for finding my comment!

      Roland has also said that Curt has turned into an audiophile, so maybe he will come around to realize something. And of course the association with Steven Wilson should rub off on them at some point; maybe they'll realize that the surround mixes also sound superior not just because of the amount of speakers but also the lack of limiting. Fingers crossed.

      Of course, it begs a question I've been turning around in my head for a while now - why don't mobile devices and car audio systems just implement a compression standard so the listener can adapt it to the surroundings, instead of mastering everything for the lowest common denominator :-(